Goodby 2020…

.. don’t let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out!

Yes crude, but I’m sure millions of people are thinking that exact thought by now. New Year greetings are all about hoping 2021 is better or at least not worse.

There’s no exit strategy from the perpetual lock downs, so politicians will maintain a stranglehold on the normal activities of daily life for the foreseeable future. There’s not much you as an individual can do about that. But you can take charge of things that make a difference to your life, particularly your health. Food, diet and exercise are, so far, still under your control. The lock down isolation, stress, anxiety and boredom certainly played havoc with some peoples’ diets, but others found a way to use the time to make positive changes.

If you’re looking for inspiration to turn things around, or simply continue your newfound healthier habits, New Year resolutions for 2021 can help motivate positive goals. Here’s the short list of food and diet resolutions that support health.

  • Eat More Vegetables
  • Eat More Protein (especially if you’re in the senior citizen category)
  • Tune out the wacky diet advice
  • When you’re eating, focus on the food, not on distractions.
  • Avoid big portions
  • Minimize added sugars
  • Add fermented foods to your daily diet
  • Cut out fake foods

Here’s the Why and How:

Eat More Vegetables. Diet surveys consistently show that most people don’t eat even a bare minimum of vegetables (let alone fruit) on a daily basis. Yet this might be the one best change you can make to create instant diet improvement. How? Make sure at least one, preferably two meals are loaded with vegetables: salad (tossed greens or chopped vegetables), sautéed vegetables, vegetable-heavy casseroles, soups or stews, vegetables for snacks. Nothing wrong with a meal that’s almost entirely vegetables. In winter, make it soup; in summer, a salad. Benefits: vitamins, mineral, fiber and all the other biologically active molecules found in vegetables that provide health benefits. Plus vegetables are filling, so there’s less room in your stomach for less healthful food.

Eat More Protein. This advice is particularly aimed at older adults. Muscles gradually deteriorate with age. The process is called sarcopenia, which increases risk for weakness, falls and disability. As the global population ages, sarcopenia is getting more serious attention from health researchers. Keeping elderly people mobile and active is good public health policy. While eating more protein may not reverse the process of sarcopenia, it can slow it down. Yet older people frequently cut back on high protein foods due to cost, cooking, chewing difficulties or taste changes. If you are eating less meat for any reason, get protein from eggs, dairy foods, soy foods, beans and nuts.

Tune Out the Wacky Diet Advice. The only problem with this resolution is that the average person might not recognize wacky when they hear it. What are the clues? Rigid “all or nothing” rules about food choices. Dire warnings about foods that will give you this or that disease or that are “poison”. Promises of miracle cures or miracle weight loss. Frankly I’d avoid listening to people who are skeleton-thin; they’re trying to pass their personal food phobias off as expert advice. Medical or other degrees do not necessarily equate with good diet advice.

Just Eat. In other words if you’re eating a meal or a snack or just drinking a cup of coffee or tea, just focus on that experience. Don’t distract yourself with a video or social media or a book or magazine. Maybe have some music or some conversation, or just have quiet. Focus on the flavors and textures. Good food should be appreciated. You can’t appreciate the food if you’re distracted by other stuff.

Small portions. You may have discovered the magic of smaller portions during the lock down, especially if you were cooking for yourself at home. Why cook too much food? Why throw away perfectly fine food (that you paid for and prepared)? Excess portions (particularly at restaurants) are a major contributor to obesity. Theoretically you could eat just about anything and not gain weight, if you stuck to small portions. One helpful strategy: use smaller plates and glasses.

Lose the Sugar, meaning ‘added sugar’. I’m less concerned about alleged effects of sugar on weight and more concerned about the effect of all that hidden syrupy sweetness on your ability to taste and appreciate food. If all your salad dressings are gunked up with sweeteners, how are you going to appreciate a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing? If you slurp sugary soft drinks or coffee drinks, how are you going to appreciate the flavor of actual coffee or unsweetened fruit? If your taste buds have been hijacked by non-stop sweetness, you’ll think real unprocessed food tastes “bad” because it’s missing that hit of sugar. How to accomplish this? Stay away from highly processed food in general and read labels for “added sugars”.

Include Fermented Foods. aka: probiotic foods with active cultures. Preferably every day. Yogurt is the best example. Kefir, kimchi, naturally fermented sauerkraut or pickles, and kombucha are other examples. Other foods created by fermentation — sourdough bread, tofu, miso, cheese — don’t typically contain active cultures. They’re fine foods, just not a good source of probiotics. This could be the decade of the Gut Microbiome (aka gut microbes or healthy gut bacteria). We’re only just beginning to understand all the ways gut microbes influence our health, for better or worse. Probiotic supplements sound like a simple solution. Unfortunately we don’t know enough about all the millions of potential beneficial microbes to pick 2 or 3 to put into a supplement and claim health benefits. So get your probiotics from foods that people have been eating for centuries.

Lose the Fake Food. Let’s put it this way: if your daily food and beverage choices are so slanted towards sweetened flavors that you depend on artificial sweeteners to avoid calorie overload, you need to rethink your whole diet. Same goes for fat. Low fat “cheese” and butter-like non-fat spreads are not real food. If you depend on fake fat/low fat versions of real food, time to rethink your choices.

2021 can be the year you take control of the things you can control. Make it a year of personal health empowerment.

Copyright: All content © 2021 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.